Stanford University scientists may have just invented a new method of removing bacteria from water, and it could completely revolutionize people’s access to clean drinking water throughout the world.
The invention is a powder that almost instantly kills thousands of waterborne bacteria when simply mixed with water and exposed to normal sunlight for a few seconds. It consists of nano-sized flakes of aluminum oxide, molybdenum sulfide, copper, and iron oxide, which combine with sunlight to form hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals, Phys.org reported.
These newly formed chemical byproducts work quickly to kill off any bacteria and then dissipate just as quickly.
The powder has several advantages over existing methods of cleaning drinking water. It does not use any chemicals that create lasting toxic byproducts, and it does not require ultraviolet light, which takes a long time and requires electricity, according to Phys.org.
In addition, the powder is recyclable. It can be removed from the now-clean water with a magnet, and researchers were able to reuse the same powder 30 times.
About two billion people around the world — more than a quarter of the world population — do not currently have access to clean drinking water, and approximately 3.6 billion people lack sanitation services, according to NPR’s coverage of a recent United Nations World Water Development Report.
This cheap, nontoxic, recyclable water-cleaning powder could make a big difference if it can be produced and distributed at scale. And there are other implications, as well.
“For hikers and backpackers, I could envision carrying a tiny amount of powder and a small magnet,” one of its inventors said. “During the day you put the powder in water, shake it up a little bit under sunlight and within a minute you have drinkable water.”
The inventors also suggested that it could be used as an alternative to UV lamps in wastewater treatment plants, which would save time and energy.
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